Construction Site Accidents

New York has special provisions to address the unique dangers faced by construction workers. Workers at construction sites are routinely subject to dangerous conditions and potentially serious injury. When a worker is injured, he/she is covered by workers’ compensation. But that is often not sufficient to cover the severe injuries that occur at construction sites. Furthermore, construction sites are usually occupied by numerous employers (contractors, subcontractors) at a time. Often, one of these third parties will be the cause of an injury to a non-employee who is working for someone else on the site.

Negligence: Under ordinary negligence law, an injured worker may sue a third-party contractor for dangerous conditions that (1) caused the worker’s injury; and (2) that the third-party had control of and knew or should have known was dangerous. A worker’s comparative negligence is at issue in such claims, as in other negligence claims. If you recover by making a third-party claim, you will have to reimburse workers’ compensation that you receive.

Labor Law 240: Under New York’s Labor Law 240, construction workers who perform work necessary or incidental to the erection or repair of a building and who do so at high elevations (on a scaffold or on ladders on tall structures) are entitled to certain safety devices and provisions. If they do not receive such devices and provisions and they are injured in scaffold or other elevation support-related accidents, in addition to workers’ compensation through their employer, they may recover against a third-party that was responsible for supervising the project and providing safety devices (such as general contractor or subcontractor responsible for safety on part or all of the project) if they can prove the third-party knew or should have known there were safety violations. However, if the third-party can prove the worker was solely responsible for the accident, then the defendant is not liable. If you recover by making a third-party claim, you will have to reimburse a portion of the workers’ compensation benefits you received.

Minor repair work and routine maintenance is not considered erection or repair of a building under Labor Law 240.

Examples:

  • You are a construction worker on a scaffold set up by your employer; it falls for no apparent reason. You may recover for any injuries that result.
  • You are a construction worker on the 50th floor of a high-rise project and a floor you were installing gives way. Your employer has provided an old, damaged safety harness, which fails, causing you to fall to the next landing. You can recover for your injuries even though your mistakes in installing the flooring might have contributed to your injury.
  • You are a construction worker. You set up a scaffold, but do it improperly. The scaffold gives way, and you fall, injuring yourself. You may not be able to recover because you were the sole cause of your injury.
  • You are a construction worker repairing a bridge. You have been instructed to use, and in how to use, certain safety lines when scaling the bridge. You fail to use the lines and fall, injuring yourself. You may not be able to recover because you were the sole cause of your injury.

Labor Law 241: This section provides for strict liability where a contractor or other party violates certain safety codes at a worksite, and that violation results in injury. That means the worker does not have to prove the defendant was at fault (negligent) in causing the injury—the violation establishes fault. This section is not limited to injuries that result from elevation-related accidents. If you recover by making a third-party claim, you will have to reimburse a portion of the workers’ compensation benefits you received.

Example: A safety code provides that lights must be placed a certain distance apart in a tunnel a worker is excavating. The lights are too far apart. A worker trips and breaks a leg. The worker may recover by showing the code violation.

I have been injured in a construction accident while I was working on a construction site:

  • Notify the contractor or property owner immediately or ASAP
  • Seek medical attention and otherwise document your claims
  • Your time to sue is limited; contact an experienced personal injury lawyer

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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